Monday, November 12, 2007

Skiing into the wild - A night at Bus 142

A copy of "Into The Wild" signed by Krakauer, Carine McCandless and others was tucked away in a small suitcase filled with tattered notebooks inscribed with thoughts and signatures of previous visitors.

I skied out the Stampede Trail to Bus 142 -the magic bus - with Brian and Dan over the weekend. Its ironic that I ventured out there now especially with the increased publicity and interest in the bus since the recent release of the film Into the Wild. I read the book in the mid-90's and had never felt the desire or motivation to trek out the dilapidated bus perched above the Sushana River.

I remember reading about the discovery of Chris McCandless in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in 1992 and had similar thoughts as other Alaskans--another careless person went out into the wilderness unprepared and suffered the consequences. Krakauer's book changed my initial opinion of McCandless because it provided insight into the life and ideals of this young kid who perished just beyond the edge of civilization. It put a name and in a sense, a life, to the dead body which was so simply reported by the newspaper.

Even so...I feel that Krakauer went beyond just giving me the story of McCandless and instead sensationalized his life which in turn made this kid some sort of prodigy or hero of sorts-which I don't completely understand. I suppose this is the intention of an author in order to grab his readers and suck them in....which is understandable. The book sucked me in but certainly not to the point of idolizing McCandless. I very much admire his sense of adventure and I can relate to his desire to remove oneself from the pressures and expectations of society--and live simply in the wild where the chores of survival become daily routine. I am intrigued and inspired by the powerfulness of the wilderness and I understand the allure this has for others making there way north to see the bus and wilderness that McCandless found so special.

Brian and I are planning to do the winter Wilderness Classic Race through the Wrangell Mtns from Nabesna to McCarthy this spring. We thought an early winter ski out the Stampede Trail would present us with some of the conditions we may encounter during the wilderness classic(open water crossings or overflow, breaking trails, etc) and also allow us to continue to fine tune our winter camping skills. The bus suddenly seemed like a good destination because this gave us a goal to shoot for...something to keep us pushing forward through the uncomfortable times, be it cold extremities, fatigue or malfunctioning equipment.

Stampede Rd is maintained for the first 8 miles or so - beyond that it becomes a rough 4-wheeler trail that crosses bogs, rivers, and traverses up small stream beds. According to my GPS its about 19.0 miles from the beginning of the trail to the magic bus # 142.
Here is the profile of the route. Some long gradual ups/downs but nothing really hair raising.

Getting ready to depart the truck and head out the Stampede Trail. Even though there was a cleared trail the skiing was still quite challenging the deeper we went into the wild. The snow cover was thin and the trail was super bumpy and uneven. Rivers/creeks are still freezing up and ice conditions are unstable and highly variable.

We encountered large areas of inclined overflow ice which would easily throw us off balance, especially with the 30 lb packs on our backs. We crashed down and slammed onto the icy surface a handful of times.

Some type of 4-wheeler had traveled out the trail and we were able to ski in the tire tracks. The snow in the middle of the trail was littered with rocks and was nearly impossible to glide across. The trail narrowed considerably after the first few miles and the thick brush would continuously grab our packs, ski baskets, slam into our shoulders, slap our faces and throw us off our feet--it was really frustrating especially after it got dark.

The Savage River--our first river crossing. We had to suck it up and walk through the icy water. The worst part was forcing our cold feet back into the confines of our ski boots.

Descending into the Teklanika drainage and our second river crossing. Our feet were just beginning to warm up after our little dip in the Savage River.

The late afternoon light on the Teklanika River was quite beautiful. This is the spot Chris McCandless was unable to ford in July 1992, the season when this glacially fed river runs high, fast, silty and cold.

Just below an eddy in the river the ice had accumulated and formed a narrow bridge which we were able to ski across. The water wasn't very deep but would have totally sucked to take an unexpected dip.

Water and bindings don't mix--bindings froze up numerous times

This plaque was mounted on an interior wall of the magic bus.

The first rays of sunlight shine through the windshield

The bus is on a linear knoll (probably an old moraine or esker) above the Sushana River where we could collect fresh water. It was quite a serene and beautiful spot and I can understand why Chris found this location quite special.

Smoke billows from bus 142's chimney on a cold frosty morning. The stove heated the bus up quickly but was so drafty it didn't take long to burn up the wood we had collected.

All aboard...

I didn't have any expectations prior to arriving at the bus. I was overwhelmingly surprised at how cool it was sitting there deep within the boreal forest in the shadow of the Alaska Range. It was hard to imagine this hunk of steel careening down the streets of Fairbanks back in the day. It seemed virtually untouched since the summer of 1992 when Chris McCandless spent his last days here living off the land. I was intrigued sifting through the various notebooks with words from fellow visitors and reading the inscriptions etched into the walls. I believe McCandless pilgrims will be completely satisfied, or perhaps, spiritually enlightened after visiting this site.

The hunter that found Chris's body said there was a red leg warmer, the type that would be worn by a dancer, hanging outside the bus. I was amazed to see a red leg warmer still at the bus.
Some inscriptions on the ceiling of the magic bus

We were able to warm up and dry out all of our gear in the bus. A small note asked visitors to respect this site and leave enough firewood for the next guest, sweep the floor, etc. We fully respected the bus as a memorial.

It took us 7 hours of steady skiing to get back to the truck.

The Teklanika River had risen some since the day before and we were forced to ski through an icy slurry on top of the river ice. We slipped plastic trash bags over our socks to keep them from getting wet but the frigid water still poured into our ski boots. The water froze instantly in the 0ºF temperature and Brian and Dans boots were permanently attached to their skis. We still had to cross over the Savage River.

So the ski back turned into a series of intervals of racing forward to keep warm, then stopping quickly to stuff food in our faces, stop again to shake our hands to warm up our fingers and toes. At one point I had to sit down and pull my feet out and change socks. As I was sitting there alone in the dark I heard wolves howling not far off through the woods. As I swept my headlamp around me the ice crystals on the trees looked like eyes peering at me from all directions. All in all it was a great trip full of a lot of unknowns--which is exactly what we were looking forward too.

I revisited Bus 142 in August of 2008 to find it totally vandalized. Details of that trip are here.

If you want to see even more pictures from our trip to the magic bus I posted them on Picassa.

Check out Brian's blog post about the ski out to the Chris McCandless magic bus on the Stampede Trail.

Listen to this weeks podcast from the Alaska Public Radio Network show "Talk of Alaska": The McCandless Bus - Move it or Leave it?


Ted Wu said...

Cool...have you seen the movie yet??

Lena said...

"So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greather joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun." - Christopher McCandless

Anonymous said...

Hey Ed! I love your photos! My sister found your blog and passed it along. Nice to imagine being outside as I sit in my little office...

Anonymous said...

amazing trip bros, great pics. i want to do this on my next trip up in summer 09/10. i have to ask though, is there a really good way to locate this on say, google earth? trying to track it own using clues from online, like between sushana and teklanika rivers, but cant figure out where it might be. ill hike this in a summer or two, just like to see whats ahead of me first

much love

Anonymous said...

Hi Ed,
I'd never have thot to go out and find that bus. Very COOL! I'm glad they haven't moved it - it's probably some much needed shelter.

Glad you didn't eat the berries!

Anonymous said...

Hey Ed,
How BIG was the plaque that the family put for Chris? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi Guys,

So great trip and pictures.
I plan to go the the magic bus 142, do you guys have some info to share on how to go there, some map or anything, I'll appreciate that.

Here si my email:
I'm from Switzerland.

Thank you

Anonymous said...

Great blog. Was it creepy staying at the bus?

Sara said...

Hi, great post! I'm going to link your blog...I'm a born-and-raised Alaskan (went to UAF!) and am fascinated by McCandless' story to this day. I wanted to make a pilgrimage to the bus, but I think I'll just live vicariously through trips made by brave souls like you and your friends! Best wishes from Seattle, WA.

Anonymous said...

saludos desde españa

Anonymous said...

this sounds like such an awesome adventure...i would love to do something like this

Macy Halladay said...

I really enjoyed your post.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing these pics. I just finished reading the book and am glad to see more of the bus and where Chris was.

WalkIntoTheWild said...

Hi! My name's Patrick. I'm from Ireland, I'm planning my Alaskan adventure next year, by foot. I'm planning to walk the Stampede Trail during May/Jun time. Would this be the best time to go? It might sound like a silly question? I'm a bit wary of bears and wolves, what would be the best precautions? I'm sorry, this will be the last question I promise. Is there anything else important I should bring:
I.e. What sort of clothing for that time of year would be best, what sort of tent, map etc.
If anybody has any suggestions, please let me know.



Anonymous said...

hi ed,

I enjoyed looking at your blog. I've just finished reading into the wild and also recently watched the movie and was thrilled to see that you are actually able to treck out to the bus as I would very much like to make the pilgrimage. I know your probably sick of people asking but I was just wondering if you could lend me some info about how you go about this? I'm familiar with hiking in Australia where I'm from but what is neccessary to do in america? what is the best way to get to the stampede trail and do you need any sorts of permissions from local authorities to be on the land?

please email me at

many thanks,

yusufyusuf said...

Bravo guys.......

Honza said...

Johan (, CZECH

It´s musst be fabulous over there. Somewhile I musst visit this place. Chriss was the wonderfull person and his testament will be living beyond ... my respect.

Salute !

Samantha from So Many Moments said...

FANTASTIC! What an incredible journey. How wonderful that the bus is still there. Loved your photos & story. :)

Ed Plumb said...

I just wanted to thank everyone for all the friendly comments. I am happy to hear that my story and pics of the magic bus have been enjoyed by others. I will make every attempt to reply if you send me an email.


Anonymous said...

great stuff! was it slightly freaky sleeping in the bus?

chase said...

Thanks for the pics Ed.

I thought that it was an interesting story and extremely moving. You said it took eight hours to trek out there. As with the other posts I am curious what the best time of the year to get out there and hike it on foot? Thanks

Ed Plumb said...

Hi Chase - the best time of the year to go to the bus is in March or early April when the rivers are still frozen solid, the days are long, and there is a hardpacked trail from mushers and snowmachines. In the summer you would need a small boat to cross the Teklanika River. Ed...

Anonymous said...

Great pic.!!!
Hello from BOSNIA.

Unknown said...

Hi Ed!
I have just finished reading the Krakauer book for a book group I belong to and really enjoyed your post as a supplement. I will be sharing your blog with the book group!

Smiles from Hong Kong!

Christar said...

I loved your story! I first heard of Chris McCandless from the movie, but I have to say it is honestly one of my favorite and most inspirational movies I have ever seen. I love Chris's ideas of what life had to offer. I hope to be as lucky to visit the spot of The Magic Bus someday.

[.bellflower.] said...

thank you for this awesome read:)

Anonymous said...

I'm from Brazil, and I saw the movie Into the Wild last saturday.
I loved your pictures. This is a wonderful place.
For me, a place like that is really magic and very, very different the nature in Brazil.


Anonymous said...

I'm from Brazil, and I saw the movie Into the Wild last saturday.
I loved your pictures. This is a wonderful place.
For me, a place like that is really magic and very, very different the nature in Brazil.


Andy said...

Thanks for the photos and story about your trip to 'the bus'. Do you know where the zip line across the river Krakauer referred to is? It's hard to believe he (McCandless) was just a 1/4 mile from it.

Anonymous said...

Hey there
I just finished reading Into the Wild but 15 minutes ago. Its cool to see pictures of some of the things the book reffered to, like the Memorial plaque.

Very cool, I hope to one day visit the bus.
Great blog!

Anonymous said...

Great tour!
I hope I can visit those places...

Regards from Italy


Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot Chris for what you did.

Oz from Chile, Southamerica

Unknown said...

What an amazing story. It's truly inspirational to see how many people's lives Chris has touched.

Anonymous said...

Seems a little twisted to visit this place for fun. You guys clearly missed the point of his life and turned his amazing journey’s tragic final destination into a yuppie tourist destination. Shame on you.

the talented Mr. Ceej said...

Despite the fact that the movie brought fame to the great Chris McCandless. He and his story have been known for decades before hand lets all remember that.
I do not like people going to the magic bus like theyre seeing the set of a movie. A man died there but what i do believe is that if you are of the same heart and mind as him you should go there and stay for aslong as you wish. Or if you ar'nt of the same mind then go there as a pilgrimage, as part of that you cant drive up there you must walk and by that i mean walk a distance that would take a few days, day in day out walk!, till youve argued about stopping a few times and plough through because once your in this state of mind you'll feel as he did.
Buddha never wanted and even demanded that he didnt want to be worshiped like a god. He (dont mean to paraphrase), worship and devote to the teachings and ideas, not him he is a body and to have faith in him goes against his teachings.
Chris McCandless i believe would be similar in that people shouldnt do his trip just for the sake of doing it. People should travel because they dont know whats next and they dont care where theyre going until they know.

Thank You for reading, I am one such person that has done what chris has and that was before the movie, i have seen great sights and i have met great hardships but now i see clearly and take all things into account.
And for this i am a better man, not for copying but for being inspired to so something original of my own and not for the sake of it.

Anonymous said...

Shopping the cheap battery,you can see from here.

Anonymous said...

Simply amazing,i am speechless by the book,story and the movie.And thank you that you shared your trip,photos and your feelings.I read all the details and would love to visit there 1 day.
Thank you Ed
Great blog!

Sean Penney said...

I just saw the movie "Into the Wild" last night. Frankly, I almost turned it off a couple of times. It seemed to celebrate youthful stupidity and arrogance. I certainly didn't perceive Chris as some sort of hero. He came across as an emotionally damaged, over-confidant dilletante who "rejected" society as a way of getting back at his parents.

Chris was wholly ill-prepared in either knowledge or equipment to attempt to live off the land, especially amongst the boreal forests of Alaska. While Chris was a couple of years older than me, I'm struck now by the differences in what experience and preparation can yield.

I live in northern Canada and grew up hunting and fishing. Even with the paltry resources Chris had with him, any experienced hunter could've lived high on the hog, certainly well enough to make it back to civilization where and when desired.

I had to choke back laughter at the "words of wisdom" passed onto Chris from the "experienced" hunter during his time working the combine. Then to see him attempt to quarter a moose in the manner portrayed on screen was simply sad. I haven't read the book or seen Chris' notes, but if he actually tried to smoke complete quarters of moose as portrayed on film, then he was a complete moron. Even in the middle of Summer, if you hang your quarters in the shade under a stout pine/spruce/fir,'ll keep for days. Of course the cooler it is, the longer it will keep. As for fly spits or "maggots" if you let the blood on the meat dry, it forms a hard, protective glaze. A can of black pepper rubbed on top will keep the flys away too.

As for depending on a semi-auto .22 for protection and my sole source of protein acquisition, that is just ludicrous. You've got Grizzly, massive black bears, agressive moose, deal with. While I've seen big game successfully taken with a rimfire .22, it isn't ethical as the animal could've quite easily escaped wounded and suffered a lingering death.

Watching the movie I just wanted to reach out and shake that young idiot! He didn't die for some great ideal, he died from his own stupidity and arrogance.

As for people making use of the bus...anybody who has spent any amount of time in the woods would automatically recognize that in the wilderness, any form of shelter is welcomed and the unwritten rule is that everyone is welcomed. That is why you'll never find a cabin, trapper's hut, or converted camper bus with a lock on it. Shelter=survival. Just leave things as you find them. Most will ensure that a supply of dry wood is also put aside. These guys did nothing wrong, they did the same thing Chris did, only more successfully, as they actually lived.

Anonymous said...

wow he was pretty brave

Anonymous said...

there are a million other beautiful places to go. i dont understand why people make this special place such a tourist attraction?! Sure if chris would have wanted it like this, he would have stayed somewhere in town. he left civilization for a reason...

Dee Stephens said...

I'm totally impressed with the fact that your dogs made the trek to the bus in the middle of winter. How do they deal with the snow and ice?

Anonymous said...

I want just to thank you for this article and all your photos. They able a person like me - who can't travel to Alaska and was interested about Christopher MacCandless - to live a part of this adventure and the fact that the bus was vandalisez is such a shame, it was a good thing to tidy it, thx !!!

Anonymous said...

a webo !!!! que chingón!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks we for sharing your great trek. I personallyhave spent a year planning and training for a complete trek of the pacific crest trial by myself ( not inspired by movie I just saw it today and was curious if it was a real location) , I enjoyed your photos and encourage you to post more of your adventures. I am going to log my adventure with photos and journal entries when I get back . Happy trails and best wishes on future endevours.

James sutton , Portland Oregon

Anonymous said...

Grandi ragazzi.........bellissima avventura!!!!!!! ;-)

girleyes said...

i love this, it looks beautiful (and freezing). i would have liked to see it before it was vandalized. very sad.

coulet pauline said...

really incredible trip...i hope visit one day.
thank you for your pics.

pauline, france

Unknown said...

Wow! This blog is incredible! Thanks for sharing your stories!

Natureza em Extinção said...

I watched and read the story of Chris sad but beautiful ... The credit that they made this trip was very exciting ..
Chris left his history as a hero ..

Anonymous said...

I just talked to someone yesterday who knew a member of the family that pulled Bus 142 to that site originally. The family lived in the bus while their father worked on the road with the work crew. When the work was completed, the bus was abandoned.

Tobias said...

Looks like you've had a great trip. Thanks for documenting it so well. It was one good read.

--Tobias from Sweden

b3rtnay said...

props. I traveled out to the bus this summer. It's changed a bit, but not much. I can't imagine doing it in winter like you did!! We used all the daylight as much as we could, i can't imagine going when it wasn't light 20 hours in the day!

Anonymous said...

Just about a week ago, me and a friend of mine, we tried it ourself. With our jeep we made it about 10Km on the Stampede Trail, starting at the Eight Mile Lake. We started hiking early in the morning, made it across Savage and Tek and then turned around at about 1.5 Miles after crossing the Tek. We planned to be back at the car in the evening, and then recognized that would not have been possible. But the hike, and the feeling of having made it so close is enough reward.
Maybe i'll come back another day.
But September seems to be a great time to cross those rivers, even though the Savage doesn't seem that hard, the Teklanika was not higher than to the knees, too.

Anonymous said...

So, I just finished reading Into the Wild for school, and I think Chris' story is absolutely intriguing. I find it amazing that you were able to visit the same bus where he lived for 112 must have been out of this world. Really cool that you went. Still, be careful! :)

kylethewall said...

heyy, i have always been looking for something in my life that i couldnt find. i think that chris has helped me figure out what to do with my life and i want to pay his respects by visiting the bus. i was just wondering if you could email me back. i just have a lot of questions that need some answering

Alvaro said...

Hey guys...what a great trip. Tell me what is the best time to go alaska and get the magic bus? And can you tell me the exactly point to looking for on google earth . Thanks a lot.

Into the Wild said...

I vote for the very end of winter, beginning of spring as the best time to make it out there. There's an ice bridge to cross the river don't forget. Just stopping by from to touch base with other bloggers who have made the trek. Nice blog here Ed, keep up the good work. How was Fairbanks this Winter?

digital camera battery said...

I had to choke back laughter at the "words of wisdom" passed onto Chris from the "experienced" hunter during his time working the combine. Then to see him attempt to quarter a moose in the manner portrayed on screen was simply sad. I haven't read the book or seen Chris' notes, but if he actually tried to smoke complete quarters of moose as portrayed on film, then he was a complete moron. Even in the middle of Summer, if you hang your quarters in the shade under a stout pine/spruce/fir,'ll keep for days. Of course the cooler it is, the longer it will keep. As for fly spits or "maggots" if you let the blood on the meat dry, it forms a hard, protective glaze. A can of black pepper rubbed on top will keep the flys away too.

Fourat said...

I want To go Theeere toooo !!! :'(